Musical gem unearthed

23:00, Feb 20 2013
INFLUENTIAL:<I> Searching for Sugar Man</I> is the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Dylanesque musician in Detroit whose songs were a touchstone for opponents of apartheid in South Africa.

Searching for Sugar Man
M, 1hr 35min
Reviewed by Peter Lampp.

Members of the South African community requested that this documentary be brought to Cinema Gold.

And they have come along in throngs to see the man who was, apparently, bigger than Elvis in their then-apartheid republic in the 1970s.

His name was Sixto Rodriguez.

But it has not only been expatriates who have been emotionally moved by a bio-film, which could just as easily have been named Dead Men Don't Tour.

Apparently he got plenty of air time in New Zealand, Australia and of course, Botswana.


This song-writing guy, Rodriguez from backblocks Detroit, had the voice of a folk-rocker that could have put Bob Dylan's to shame, and an album of his songs was made in auto city. But he never made it in the United States, and it seems he didn't care nor crave adulation.

A demolition worker, Rodriguez might soon be household fare in the US courtesy of this doco when the Academy Awards are announced, because Sugar Man is up for best documentary (feature).

Somehow, some of his recordings from Detroit found their way to South Africa with lyrics that were always political and even downright anti-apartheid and of which the Afrikaner government did not approve.

The songs became hits with the liberal folk there. But even then, no-one really had the foggiest idea who this Rodriguez chap was.

That's what the documentary sets out to discover. Two South African fans investigated and almost by fluke make a lot of headway.

Old footage is used and Rodriguez performing wearing a hat reminded me a lot of Leonard Cohen.

It is quite a story and now I can see why Coral at Cinema Gold was so insistent.

The music in the film, funnily enough, is by Rodriguez. Go see, it's simply a feel-gooder.

By the way, he performs in Wellington next month.

Manawatu Standard